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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another Reason to Make Things

I received this great e-mail from Jody Moore and wanted to share the information. I’ve always enjoyed crafts and now I have another reason to keep making things!

Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist and psychologist, has written a book called Lifting Depression, which is excerpted in Scientific American Mind magazine (Aug/Sept issue). In it, she describes how depression rates have risen in recent decades and attributes this rise--at least in part--to our convenience- driven society. She has found a connection between three areas of the brain that form what she calls an "effort-driven- rewards circuit."

Modern conveniences don't activate this circuit because it requires work with your hands to trigger it. So, she concludes, diving into "a scrapbook project or knitting a sweater may distract you from the stress in your life and engage your brain in intense ways that are beneficial to your mental health" by changing your brain chemistry even more effectively than antidepressants.

The media so often tell us that the cause of this complex disorder is simple: depression is due to a chemical imbalance that is corrected by taking antidepressants. But, in the midst of a multibillion-dollar antidepressant industry, depression rates are higher than ever. This startling observation suggests that there is more to the depression story than the current antidepressant ads suggest. I searched the biomedical literature and, after conducting relevant research with rodents, came upon a unique explanation of the increased depression rates in contemporary society. Although it is not likely we have experienced significant changes in our brains over the past century, it is clear that our lifestyles have changed dramatically. In our increasingly automated society, we exert less physical effort to obtain life's important resources than our grandparents and great grandparents.

For a brain that evolved to move the body around in complex ways to interact with the world around us, our increasingly effortless lifestyles result in an unengaged brain that receives few reminders that we have meaningful control over our environments. Our brains' interpretation of a lack of control in our increasingly chaotic lives leads to greater stress and anxiety that often culminates in the symptoms of depression. Incorporating physical activity that leads to tangible meaningful rewards in our lives, something I call effort-driven rewards, can act as a form of a mental vitamin that builds emotional resiliency. Even better, tasks that utilize our hands are especially effective considering that a large proportion of our brains' "real estate" is directed toward their movement. Thus, the "chores" that were a necessary component of our grandparent's lives likely lifted their emotions in powerful ways.

The idea that effort-driven rewards activate our brain reward area and motivate us to interact within the context of our environments in interesting and productive ways is the basis of Lifting Depression. The involvement of these physical activities in our more cerebral lifestyles reminds the brain of its relevance in obtaining resources in our daily lives. Knitting a sweater, cooking dinner, working in our gardens and creating a sculpture all activate the effort-driven reward brain circuitry and produce a tangible product that the brain recognizes as valuable. As our brains perceive that we have more control over the environment around us it reduces the chaotic stress that so often overcomes us--building resilience against the onset of depression.

Dr. Kelly Lambert is Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA. For two decades Dr. Lambert has divided her time between the classroom and laboratory. An award winning professor, she enjoys teaching courses such as Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical Neuroscience, Psychobiology of Stress, and Comparative Animal Behavior.

This is really interesting to me because Lisa Holt (another Stampin’ Up! Demonstrator) and I were just talking about this on Friday. We were making and selling cards and crosses. You could make the items with our help or you could purchase them already made. Lisa said that the problem with purchasing them already made is that you missed out on the “therapy” time. I agree. So many people talk about how crafting is their “therapy” time. Now even scientists are agreeing with us.

For more information about the book, here is the link to Dr. Lambert's website.

Happy stamping,

Sharon Cheng
Richland Hills, TX


Denise said...

Thanks for posting this and putting it on FR site, it validates what I have been telling my husband when he thinks I am into my Art stuff too much lately He calls it my Art Junk..Thanks a million Denise

Sharon Cheng said...

Thanks for sharing, Denise. This is a case where the process can be more important than finishing your project. Another reason for my having more than one UFO (unfinished object!).

Happy stamping,